PUBLISHED: 08:42 03 March 2014 | UPDATED: 08:42 03 March 2014
ANN WIDDECOMBE has never been afraid of controversy. As well as making her name as a British Conservative Party politician for more than 20 years and unforgettable star performer in BBC's Strictly Come Dancing in 2010, Ann has also battled some challenges in her own life.
Ann explains: ‘If you said to me when I left parliament, that this was how it was going to go – you will be dancing for three months on prime time television and touring the country, working on a pantomime and then at the Royal Opera House – I would have said, “lie down and have an aspirin.”’
Her characteristic of being a strong, fearless woman, combined with her quick-thinking and dry sense of humour, didn’t go unnoticed in our conversation.
‘I will not be dancing this year, and I was never dancing on Strictly! Anton du Becke certainly didn’t call that dancing, I can tell you,’ Ann continues.
Now Ann is focusing her attentions on her debut autobiography, Ann Widdecombe: Strictly Ann. It recalls her life and highlights the people and events that most influenced her along the way.
Much is discussed in her autobiography, from her early family life in Singapore and convent school days, to her student ambitions at Birmingham and Oxford, and her long-serving years as an MP. Ann offers unique insight into her time as a minister in three departments of government and her role in the shadow cabinet in the 1990s. She is known for being an outspoken MP and the book also explains the roots of her conversion to Catholicism and her deeply held views on abortion and gay marriage.
Ann reveals: ‘I was very dubious for quite a while whether I wanted to write it or not, because an autobiography is a historical record. You have to tell the truth about people you don’t like and about your friends as well. I think it was largely down to Strictly, as my life took an extraordinary turn. Lots of people came up to me and said you really need to write an autobiography. So that’s what I did.
‘Inevitably, when you are visiting your whole life, you are going to get those good and bad memories. Memories of bereavement, memories of when your career isn’t going so well as well as moments of triumph, so you are bound to have the good and the bad. Writing the book wasn’t a positive or a negative experience, I don’t invest in pieces of work in that sort of emotion. I was just writing a factual account of my life.’
However, Ann’s autobiography wasn’t the first book she had written, and she openly admits she writes every word in every single novel. She has published four books since 2000 and is currently working on her first detective novel.
‘I thought I would try my hand at detective fiction. It is very different to writing an original novel. I finished what I described as my first novel when I was ten, but it was nothing of the sort, it was just a couple of exercise books stuck together. I finished a novel when I was 18, but I didn’t try to get it published as it was nothing and I felt I wasn’t ready for that. I carried on writing short stories, but of course the politics bug bit. When we lost the election in 1997, I went from being a minister to being on the opposition back bench. I had a new release of time and that’s when I started writing.’
Ann admits she was very skeptical about how her first novel was going to be received by the public. ‘I’m a Marmite politician, you either loved me or hated me,’ adds Ann. ‘I would imagine that quite a lot of reviewers would be more concerned that I had written the book than the book being about myself, and that’s how it turned out. The reviews fell into two distinct categories, those who actually read/reviewed the book who were favorable or quite mixed and, equally consistently, those who concentrated on the fact I had written the book, which were unfavorable. That was true with the second book, but it was less true with the third, and the fourth book, nothing at all. In the end people got over themselves.’
Her fearless, frank and engaging autobiography will delight her admirers and win her yet more fans. She is looking forward to the Essex Book Festival, where she will be talking at the University Centre at Harlow College on March 22.
‘I always enjoy literary events. They are not confrontational like the political ones are, as people are generally interested in the work you have written, which is always gratifying. I have never yet, well I think I tell the truth, had a literary event, which I didn’t enjoy. The Q&A is the part that always interests me and I don’t have a clue what they will ask.’